Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Coin-Op Classics - Three Wonders (Capcom - 1991)

Capcom Threesome!

Three Wonders is an arcade game by Capcom that lives up to its moniker by featuring not one. Not two. Not three. No, wait. Three (sorry). Three games for the price of one. For your shiny quarter / twenty pence you could choose from either Midnight Wanderers, Chariots or, the bizarrely named, Don't Pull, each one offering a very different gaming experience, and - unlike many other x-in-1 games - each one could easily have been released as its own arcade cabinet. 

Midnight Wanderers : Quest for the Chariot

The first title - assuming you are starting on the left side of the screen - takes the form of a platform run n gun game, much in the same style as Capcom's other (and very famous) effort, Ghouls 'N Ghosts. Hopping into the boots of an Elf-like creature named Lou - with player two taking control of his buddy, Siva - you must set out to save your girlfriend. Or was it save the world? Hmm, I don't remember as I wasn't paying attention, sorry. Anyhoo, you run along the lush landscapes, hurling your arrows at the evil gnome-like monsters that seem intent on murdering you. You can fire both forwards and directly above you, with the added ability to fire downwards while jumping. Taking a hit from an enemy causes Lou to lose his clothes, much like a certain game featuring a Knight called Arthur - Capcom seemed to have a thing about heroes running around in their boxers - with a second hit finishing you off. Chests are dotted around the landscape, and can be destroyed, offering up the spoils for you to collect, which usually consist of heart playing cards - 50 of which grants an extra life - or weapon power-ups, including knives and boomerangs. Each stage is guarded by the obligatory large boss monster, and these encounters are challenging and enjoyable, in part due to the creative designs of these guardians. 

The visuals are extremely impressive, with gorgeous backgrounds and sprites that contain bags of character and charm. The whole thing has a very strong artistic direction, with a strange fantasy meets steampunk vibe running throughout that really gives the game its own identity. Sound also impresses, with some jaunty tunes and varied explosions, screams, and power-up sound effects. Gameplay is what matters, however, and Midnight Wanderers is a winner in this area too. Charging through the mysterious and beautiful stages, shooting and avoiding the multitude of adversaries is a joy to experience, feeling like a fantasy get together of Ghouls 'N Ghosts, Metal Slug and Willow. It's my favourite of the three games, but that is merely testament to how good Midnight Wanderers is, and not a slight on the quality of the other two titles, which brings us to...

Chariot : Adventure Through The Sky

Next up, we have Chariot, representing the shoot-em-up side of Three Wonders. Using the same characters - including some bosses - and visual style of Midnight Wanderers, Chariots puts Lou and Siva into their very own hang glider style vehicles as they take to the skies to blast a plethora of foes. Game mechanics are your usual shoot-em-up staple and consist of one button to fire forwards and another to fire your super weapon. Where Chariots does differ slightly is the tail like extremity which comes attaches to your craft, and can be extended by collecting the relevant power-ups. This tail acts as a shield, protecting you from projectiles and enemies coming from behind, as well as an offensive weapon which damages enemies on contact. You can also collect a flying ally that adds to your firepower.

Other than that, it's business as usual, as you swoop and dive around the screen, avoiding hazards and shooting anything that dares to enter the fray. Simple, yet, like all good shmups, extremely satisfying and enjoyable. While it is certainly not the best game of its type out there, it does find favour with me thanks to the wonderful visual style, and tight controls. Chariots is another strong game, and is a great deal more engaging and fun to play than many standalone arcade shooters. Another winner.

Don't Pull!

Don't Pull! is the odd one out in this trilogy of treats, being that it bares absolutely no graphical resemblance, nor features any of the characters seen in Midnight Wanders or Chariot. Instead of the fantasy visual style of the first two games, Don't Pull goes for the extremely colourful and cutesy look as seen in games such as Kitten Kaboodle, Rainbow Islands, and any number of cute platform or puzzle games you can think of. Essentially a re-imaging of classic SEGA arcade game, Pengo, Don't Pull tasks you with the similar goal of squishing all of the onscreen enemies using the blocks that make up the single screen maze levels. Hostile blobs and fire breathing dinosaurs patrol the levels, on the hunt for fresh rabbit meat (I assume), with contact resulting in instant death. Your otherwise defenseless hero must use the blocks - which can be pushed from any side and will slide along until it collides with another block - to flatten them. 

Enemies get angry after a certain amount of time, increasing their speed and aggression, so it is best to go on the offensive and wipe them out as quickly as possible. Also, much like Pengo (and Penguin Adventures which also copied that 1985 game) there are three star blocks dotted around each level. If you can push them so that they line up, all enemies will begin a little dance routine, at the end of which they will turn into large fruits - collecting ten of which will grant you an extra life. With extremely charming graphics that almost veer into garish territory, but are just so darn cute you can forgive it, catchy ditties coupled with silly sound effects, and addictive, challenging gameplay, Don't Pull is an absolute joy to play. Like the other two games that make up Three Wonders, it could easily stand on its own in any arcade, but bundled with the others is just the icing on this rather sumptuous cake.

With three excellent games, each providing a different gaming experience, Three Wonders really does live up to its name and will provide gamers of all persuasions with many hours of enjoyable and varied gaming. It sits alongside such classics as Bubble Bobble, Rastan, Sunset Riders, Final Fight and Shinobi as one of my favourite coin-op games of all time, and is one I constantly return to, whether for some run n gun platforming, horizontal shooting, or block pushing puzzling. 

Title : Three Wonders
Developer : Capcom
Year : 1991 
System : Arcade
Ports : Saturn, PS1, PS2 & Xbox (Capcom Classics 2)